By Senator Art Torres, (Retd.) and Don C. Reed
If you are LatinX, like my late wife Gloria, it is vital to encourage your family, friends, and especially your groups or organizations — to vote YES! on Proposition 14, the California Stem Cell Research, Treatments, and Cures Initiative of 2020.
Why? Because the California stem cell program is fighting diseases which may directly affect your family and loved ones.
If you are LatinX, you face six deadly threats:
1. Diabetes, Types One and Two; https://www.cirm.ca.gov/our-progress/disease-information/heart-disease-fact-sheet
3. Obesity. https://tinyurl.com/y64edfcg
4. Kidney disease https://www.cirm.ca.gov/our-progress/disease-
5. Liver disease https://www.cirm.ca.gov/public-web-disease-focus/liver-disease
What do these conditions have in common, besides gigantic costs to families and endless suffering?
All are being fought by the California stem cell program, officially titled the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).
A citizen’s initiative, the California stem cell program was designed and led by Bob Klein, father of a son, Jordan, who tragically passed of Type One diabetes. Bob designed and wrote the law, led the campaign, served as Chair of the Board of Directors — and is now organizing the program’s hoped-for renewal.
How is California fighting LatinX-oriented chronic disease? Let’s look at just two of the six deadly threats to the LatinX population: diabetes and kidney disease.
Diabetes, as you know, is both vicious and expensive. Type 2 is more manageable than the other, not requiring insulin injections, but either one can kill you.
Due to his type one diabetes, one of my wife’s cousins had three toes amputated, but even that did not save him, and he died.
Financially, the annual cost is staggering, estimated at $327 billion — the one disease alone costing more than sixty times the cost of our program’s $5.5 billion renewal — and that’s just one time — diabetes costs must be paid every year!
More than two million LatinX Americans over the age of 20 have diabetes. (1)
Think of all that bloodtesting and insulin injections; and people dying — 76,400 Americans passed away from diabetes; across the world, more than 3 million. (2)
These are not just empty numbers on the page, but loved ones, family members.
Such suffering must be fought. This is why the California stem cell research program exists: to fight for cures, for diabetes, and all chronic disease.
To find out what they are doing about it, visit the CIRM Fact Sheet on whichever condition interests you: just type “CIRM fact sheet diabetes” or other condition.
Here is one of the antidiabetes weapons CIRM helped develop.
First, in a healthy body, a leafsized organ (the pancreas) provides the insulin the body needs. If the pancreas is gone, or does not function, that means diabetes.
Now: imagine a credit card, small, half the usual size. Split it in half lengthwise, punch tiny holes in it, put stem cells inside.
The “credit card” is a container, the “Encaptra ®” delivery device. The stem cells are precursors, an inbetween stage, not yet fully fixed on what they can be .
The idea is to put the Encaptra device under the skin, and then — forget about it.
It will (hopefully) fit in with the functions of the body, and act like a natural pancreas. Some of its precursor cells will turn into beta cells, the ones which make insulin. These will balance the body’s blood sugar levels, fighting off diabetes. The body will in turn provide nourishment. (The holes in Encaptra, by the way, are too small for immune cells to enter and kill the precursors.
If something goes wrong? The device is removable. And if it works? It changes people’s lives.
Invented by a company called ViaCyte, Inc. , Encaptra research and clinical tests was funded by CIRM to the tune of $72 million dollars. (3)
This is not pie-in-the-sky theoretical stuff; it is in clinical trials right now: being tested on volunteers: people who have diabetes, and want to defeat it. That is the goal for all of us: patients, advocates, family, and scientists.
As Viacyte’s Chief Science Officer Kevin D’Amour told me:
“We have already cured thousands of mice; it is time we started curing some people.”
And kidney disease? LatinX individuals are one and a half times more likely to die of kidney disease than the general population.
This is something I know from a personal level.
My uncle Ben’s kidneys ceased to function. No longer would they filter his blood, transferring the poisons of cellular waste into the urine, to pass safely from the body; instead, the toxins accumulated. He had to endure hemodialysis: blood washing. Three times a week he went to the hospital. Needles stabbed into his arms, and a massive amount of blood (6,0¬70% of his total blood supply) was withdrawn, passed through a filter, and then replaced. The procedure took three hours. It kept him alive for several years, but then he died: taken too young.
Today, kidney disease affects a staggering number of people: thirty million in America alone. Many more may have the disease, but are not yet diagnosed.
And the end-stage loss of kidney function which took my Uncle’s life?
“Over 650,000 Americans suffer… (the) life-threatening condition caused by the loss of kidney function.” — Kevin McCormack, CIRM Press Release, January 18, 2018.
What’s to be done?
CIRM is challenging kidney disease.
Dr. Andy McMahon, a developmental geneticist, is studying the natural development of the kidney. He hopes to learn how a healthy kidney repairs itself.
For instance, a key element of the kidney is the nephron, a microscopic human tube, which helps filter urine. Dr. McMahon wants to develop nephrons and learn how to protect or replace them.
Another approach is transplantation. When a kidney donor is found, the new kidney has to be installed and accepted by the body. To prevent rejection, drugs called immunosuppressants must be used. These can cause serious difficulties — such as infections, heart disease, cancer, diabetes.
However, a CIRM¬- funded company, Medeor Therapeutics, may have the answer. Injecting stem cells and immune cells from the donor may make his/her transplant organ “fit in”, and not be rejected.
Another approach, by Humacyte, Inc., will be to use stem cells to make the dialysis process safer: by using a bioengineered vein. Instead of a plastic tube inserted into the arm, with risk of infection, a “bioengineered vein is implanted in the arm and used to carry the patient’s blood to and from their body during dialysis.”
Which avenue will help the most and the fastest? Perhaps all, perhaps none — maybe something entirely different. We can only find out through funding science.
In addition to diabetes and kidney disease, CIRM is also fighting arthritis, heart disease, cancer, Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s, sickle cell disease, schizophrenia, urinary incontinence, peripheral neuropathy, leukemia, bubble baby disease (California saved the lives of fifty children who had that condition!), multiple sclerosis, liver disease, deafness, blindness — and more.
That is why everyone with a chronic disease (roughly one out of two Americans) should vote YES! on Prop 14, to continue funding the stem cell program.
It will cost every Californian about $5 a year, with no payments at all until 2016. It is NOT a tax, but will be taken out of the state’s general fund, in relatively small amounts, over many years.
On November 3rd, (or before) VOTE YES! on Proposition 14: the California Stem Cell Research, Treatment and Cures Initiative of 2020 — and restore funding to the greatest stem cell program in the world.
Remember, vote YES on 14 — And tell a friend!
Senator Art Torres (Ret.), JD, is a University of California Alumni Regent; California Statutory Vice Chair of the Governing Board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, California’s stem cell agency; Board Member, California Health Benefit Exchange, Covered California overseeing Obamacare; Vice Chair, One Legacy Board of Directors, an Organ Transplant Foundation; Chair Emeritus, California Democratic Party
Don C. Reed is the author of “REVOLUTIONARY THERAPIES: How the California Stem Cell Program Saved Lives, Eased Suffering, and Changed the Face of Medicine Forever”, from World Scientific Publishing, Inc., 2020